A ravenous David Adamson goes for a pub lunch in Rochdale
What: The Baum
Where: Toad Lane, Rochdale
Food/drink type: British pub classics and small plates
When: Mon – Sat: 12pm – 11pm // Sun: 12pm – 10pm
Independent or chain: Independent
The minute you turn onto Toad Lane, The Baum pub is already having an effect on you. Nuzzled into the cobbled street of the Toad Lane conservation area, it looks - as an American tourist might put it - incredibly quaint. Over the road from the Rochdale Exchange Shopping Centre, it sits as an elegant, humble counterpoint to the hulking presence of the likes of Home Bargains.
Translating from German as 'The Tree', it's as leafy and calming a presence as an old oak, the green wood panelling and window frames inviting you into what you expect to be an extremely cosy interior - which is exactly what you get.
It's something of a cliche for some pubs to feel 'like stepping back into the past', but The Baum is unavoidably of another time, and a treasure for it. From the wood panelled bar and post and rail snugs to the hammered brass tables, it's like the local pub for an imagined past; a beautiful balance between maintaining old features while knowing when to leave them to keep on ageing gracefully. If I lived nearby I'd never be out of here, such is its homey charm.
The main event
I was in Rochdale to work on a piece about the current state of the town centre and if I'd only got as far as The Baum I would say it's in rude health. I'd done of a few laps of the centre and was now ravenous, so what better than a pub lunch.
I sat in one of the raised snugs, decked out with plush red banquettes, photos of Rochdale of old and fading mirrored signs for Guinness and cigarettes - all of it enough to transport you out of time for your lunch hour. Confirming the power of marketing, I ordered a pint of Guinness and took a look at the menu.
I started with something that I'd order at any time of the day and have an appetite for; deep fried whitebait with tartare sauce (£7). These were fat, healthy little fish with a delicious thick batter, and were the perfect portion for setting the wheels of my appetite gently spinning. The tartare sauce, while hitting all the notes you want it to, would have been lifted by the inclusion of some little chunks of astringent, punchy gherkins.
This proved the perfect starter as what was to come was a more than substantial undertaking for a lunch time - chicken, ham and leek pot pie (£14). Served with mash, roasted carrots and tenderstem, it arrived as you would hope; in a piping hot ceramic pot with a cumulonimbus of puff pastry almost hovering above.
The pastry, which let's be honest is often what you try first, was the best balance of buttery layers of fluffy puff pastry cooked to that golden sweet spot. What was bubbling away underneath was even sweeter. The ham was absolutely beautiful, a perfect marriage with leek, but then you already knew that - this just simply hammered the point home. The leeks were wonderfully sweet and had clearly been given time to soak up the surrounding flavours, especially that of the mustard seeds swimming in amongst it all. Ultimately chicken is chicken, a sturdy and reliable foot soldier for any dish, and here it was very nice but found itself playing gooseberry to the ham and leeks, the ideal couple.
You should never be shy with the butter when it comes to mash, and here the mash was positively brazen - as fluffy and sleep-inducing as a new pillow. Meanwhile the carrots were well roasted but a tad soapy for me, and the tenderstem a little too roasted, taking on that charred, bitter taste that it's hard to come back from.
No bother, sometimes it's okay to skip the veg and enjoy the simple pleasure of a very well-made pie and mash.
Strangely just a mere two minutes walk from Rochdale Exchange, The Baum feels like it comes from some alternative reality where we didn't carve up historic streets to build ugly, anonymous shopping centres. It's a treasure of a building with a menu to back it up and an atmosphere you'd travel back to time and again.
The Baum, 33-37 Toad Lane, Rochdale, OL12 0NU
Whitebait with tartare sauce 8, Chicken ham and leek pot pie 8
Friendly and smiley staff
A quiet Thursday lunchtime didn't give what is a beautiful interior a chance to come alive, when I'm sure a 5 would be deserved